Hekate's Call: Chapter 1

The morning mist that rolled across the parched, cracked earth of planet fucking-nowhere was always so heavy with radiation that it spoiled all the sensors. For a moment at sunrise the view from the colossal landship, the Necromancer's Spoils, was beautiful as the rad-mist lit up and Ilina Falke could convince herself she was at the head of a cruise ship sailing across an ocean of deep blue clouds.

Then, every morning the rad-mist burned away in minutes to reveal the ashen desert below littered with another day's dead. This field was thick with the local Imperium's glossy black mechanical husks. Nothing new this side of the mountains, the Imperials were great at getting ambushed on the ash fields. Bleached-bone ghouls -- cobbled together frames built around mostly or wholly dead soldiers -- dropped from the side of the Spoils to begin collection.

Ilina Falke was just here to supervise. The company's two drones, The Scavenger and The Butcher, led the glorified scrapyard closely, towering over the field like giants leading a merchant's wagon. They were just as hacked together as the ghouls, but they were the named titans that both the Imperials and the various rebel factions told ghost stories about.

They were piloted by the dead.

But not Falke. She was a living human being, granted all the perks of the living from a steady salary to bread and water. She was compensated very well; as if her boss was begging her to go off-world to find somewhere better than this hellhole, but paid too comfortably to take the risk.

So, instead of taking any risks going off-world she presided over the collection of the dead amongst the rad-mist on the ash fields south of the mountains from the protection of her bulky, person-scale power armor at the head of the Spoils while she considered her bank account.

Something was wrong. The sensation hit her before anything had changed. It was darker than it should have been on the ash plains, and the mist should have been completely gone by now. Those clouds swirled around the feet of the titans, clinging to life. When Falke scanned the horizon she noticed an ash plume snaking into the sky. The ash blot out the sun enough to sustain the rad-mist on the field for a bit longer.

"Ambush!" Falke shrieked into her radio at the fiends. The ghouls could hear, but they didn't have the brains to think about it. But The Butcher and The Scavenger knew what it meant.

Less than a second later the sensor arrays crackled from an intense and specific interference and the briefest wave of stars shimmered beneath the rad-clouds. The Scavenger had lifted and thrown an imperial mech out in front of it just quick enough to catch the rail slug, though it only showed how powerful the railgun that fired it was. The shield mech crumpled and the slug itself hit the Spoils low and cracked one of its massive treads. Cut through both like they weren't even there.

The interference blip that occurred the moment a rail weapon was fired was common, usually the closer it was the greater the interference. But interference strong enough to momentarily power a field of dead machines only came from a proper railgun. Not the handheld rail rifles now compact enough for even infantry to use safely in low-g highly oxygenated environments. An honest, proper railgun. The kind of weapon used to crack capital ships like lobsters.

The mist swirled as ghouls and dead imperials were shaken off two hidden machines. One of them stood almost shoulder height to The Scavenger. It was lanky and color of sun-bleached bone with a horrific pitch black cloud clinging to its arm that came to the shape of a shield just in time to block a swing from The Butcher's chain axe. Falke recognized it immediately as The Problem With Inertia.

They were being ambushed by Hekate's Call, a local mercenary outfit.

The other one had shaken itself free out of her line of sight but she knew it too. A Scandal In Heaven. A lopsided machine like The Scavenger with one hulking weaponized arm that could destroy just about anything it could get close to. Unlike The Scavenger and it's plasma lance, the Scandal was a much smaller machine and the rest of its frame was rather anemic.

Ilina punched the Spoils' relay in an attempt to signal the rest of Carrion's forces. She had hesitated when she recognized the ambush and warned the fiends instead of HQ. Stupid, rookie mistake. Her sensors lit up again with interference a split-second before another rail slug carved out the Spoils' entire communication's array with uneasy precision.

The third machine in the trio, the Work From Home, was a mobile railgun platform. It could fire twice safely before it had to enter a cooling cycle, but it could fire three times if the pilot wanted to push the machine to its limits and risk the reactor. The cooling cycle was roughly a minute in ideal conditions. They were out of reach of the rest of WFH's known kit.

The railgun's interference had such a huge range that it was used as the go signal for the ambush. The rad-clouds made it impossible to detect the two laying in wait otherwise. It wasn't a tactics from the combat logs, but it was so well executed it made Falke's stomach churn.

The Necromancer's Spoils was out of commission. It couldn't move and Ilina failed to call for help when she could. There was a backup communication hook at the rear, but while she called for help the three machines could disable or destroy The Scavenger and The Butcher. The Scavenger was the boss's pride and joy, a monstrous titan that's lived for over sixty years and had never lost a fight.

Ilina Falke didn't think further than that. Preserve the current assets. Then call for help. If they could disable the Inertia and the Scandal and use them as shields, the WFH would give up. That was the victory condition she decided to pursue.

She was thankful she was a very small target.

Her power armor had a name. A Parting Word. It was equipped for mech-to-mech combat with a heavy depleted-uranium slug thrower that could throw even the most steady of ACS off kilter. Falke never had a taste for the size of steel titans and found a system that worked for her.

She hit the ground like a cannonball dropped off a skyscraper and the rad-mist blew out dramatically. The systems absorbed the impact, plus the ground was still morning-soft. It was the best announcement she could make that she was on the field since the mist rolled back in over her by a good four feet.

The Scandal had more or less the same weakness as The Scavenger. Bulky on it's right side, where it's main weapon was, which also blocked it's main sensor array. There was a huge blind spot behind its hulking weapon. She just had to push the Scandal out of the blind spot and move it in front of the Scavenger's plasma lance.

The Scavenger and The Butcher communicated via a simple text readout. A necessity since the corpse piloting one of them didn't have a lower jaw and the other had no tongue – both had their vocal cords removed entirely. The text readouts were also more reliably and faster than audio signals through radiation.

Butcher down. Hunter: evacuate.

In Carrion's canon of poorly named mechs, Ilina Falke was "The Hunter" – It was just her callsign before she signed up with the outfit. And she wasn't about to evacuate. There was no way the Inertia could have destroyed The Butcher in such a short time. The mission could still be salvaged. The assets could be saved.

Her instruments lit up with interference again as dead mechs lit up the clouds around her. Her foot caught on something seeping out of the cracks of the earth as her foot fell, a hardened black crystal, spiked. It fell back to an oil slick liquid as the crash of the rail slug echoed across the ash plains.


Stars above. She was so fucking stupid and dead beyond measure.